Fishy pregnancies can be good news

The State Column, Tom Sherman | January 23, 2015

New research shows women that eat fish during their pregnancies are more likely to have smarter, healthier babies.

 Normally when a woman talks about a fishy pregnancy, people begin to phone the producers at Maury. However, the FDA now hopes more women in America will experience fishy circumstances throughout their prenatal term.

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

Over the past decades people and scientists alike frowned upon the frequent consumption of fish– especially by pregnant women– due to the belief that trace amounts of mercury found in seafood could have an adverse effect. Researchers recently studied a group of 20-month old babies, and those with the highest exposures to mercury scored the best in the Psychomotor Developmental Index (PDI), a test that studies learned motor skills like rolling over.

“Prenatal [mercury] exposure had no direct associations with neurodevelopmental outcomes,” wrote J.J. Strain, PhD of the University of Ulster, in Ireland, lead author of the study published in the online version of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

While mercury is not a super vitamin, rather fish are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which both promotes brain growth and nervous system development in utero and lowers the chances of having a premature or malnourished baby. Researchers believe any adverse effects of the mercury may be covered by the Omega-3s. “The benefits of fish consumption may outweigh, or even mask, any potentially adverse affects of mercury,” said Edwin van Wijngaarden, PhD, co-author of the study, in a statement.

The research echoes a joint statement made by the FDA and EPA in June of 2014, that urged the public to begin consuming more fish throughout pregnancy and childhood. The two agencies agree that “pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should eat more fish” in order to capitalize on “important developmental and health benefits.”

While the two agencies have outlined guidelines for the maximum amount of fish products one should consume, they have never instituted a recommended quota either. The two agencies now suggest parents and expecting mothers should eat (or serve) at least eights ounces of fish per week, an amount that now reflects the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by the US Department of Agriculture in 2010.